For four days, the search for the Titan submersible monopolized headlines around the world. The Canadian Armed Forces, U.S. Coast Guard, and New York Air National Guard all mobilized after contact was lost during an expedition to explore the Titanic. Rescuers later concluded that its five $250,000-a-ticket passengers perished during the submersible’s “catastrophic implosion” (CNN). The breathless attention given to five wealthy men formed a stark contrast against the indifference shown to the hundreds of migrants who perished off the coast of Greece just days earlier (Al Jazeera). News outlets decided that a few missing billionaires were more newsworthy than hundreds of destitute migrants. But wealth wasn’t the only factor that contributed to the different treatment given to the Titan adventurers and the Greek migrant boat. Though wealthy people can get government assistance that other citizens can only dream of, migrant, refugee, and stateless people don’t have a government on their side at all.
The Titan submersible carried French diver PH Nargeolet, British billionaire Hamish Harding, British-Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and the American owner of the Titan’s company, Stockton Rush (CBS). Multiple branches of the U.S. military sprung into action to locate a vessel with just a single U.S. citizen onboard, though the governments of France, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom were presumably interested in the rescue of their high-profile citizens. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later offered condolences to the Dawood family while expressing gratitude for the “multinational efforts” to find the Titan (WION). Though most non-billionaires can’t expect such personalized attention from our governments if we go missing abroad, a vacationing American expects that she can depend on consular support in the event of an overseas mishap. Even when we aren’t on U.S. soil, we take it for granted that the U.S. government has a minimal interest in our well-being. It helps that the U.S. government has the economic, political, and military might to potentially smooth over any difficulties we might face with local authorities in Aruba or Cancún.
That wasn’t the case for the passengers of the migrant boat that sank off the Greek coast, most of whom were refugees from Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, and Palestine. It is unclear how much any of their national governments were interested in their survival. In any case, the governments of Syria, engaged in a civil war for over a decade, or Palestine, under Israeli occupation, have far less sway with wealthy Western nations than the governments of the United States or France.
Seven hundred fifty desperate people were crammed onto the unsafe boat in Tobruk, Libya. The Greek military tracked the boat for days as it sailed adrift and ran out of supplies. Were the migrants to reach Greek shores, the Greek government would have to deal with them. That’s why the Greek Coast Guard aggressively tows migrant boats to other countries. When the Greek Coast Guard attempted to tow the boat, survivors say, it capsized. Five hundred people perished (NYTimes). The Greek Coast Guard knew about the risk of the boat capsizing because the same thing happened in 2014 (Al Jazeera).
The Greek Coast Guard has a “close relationship” with that of the United States, working and training together to “promote common goals” in “maritime security” (Naval Today). The Greek Coast Guard uses U.S. patrol boats and benefits from the “$11.29 billion in active [military] sales cases” between Greece and the United States (State Department). But the United States doesn’t just assist its allies in using lethal violence against migrants and stateless people. The U.S. government does the very same thing within its own borders.
This past March, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol “very purposefully and methodically destroyed” dozens of water bottles, hand warmers, clothes, and other life-saving humanitarian supplies left for migrants by the Borderlands Relief Collective in California. Border Patrol followed collective members as they dropped off supplies in the Otay Mountains, trashing them as soon as the members left. Though Customs and Border Patrol leadership said they “do not condone” the purposeful destruction of humanitarian aid, encouraging migrant deaths is at the heart of U.S. border enforcement. The safest border crossings are over-policed in order to force migrants to attempt more perilous routes through a “funnel effect.” The resulting deaths are supposed to deter future migrants from attempting to cross (The Information Society, Plan A Magazine).
If “human rights” means anything, it means defending the rights of everyone regardless of nationality or citizenship. This means organizing beyond and against the nation-states and national governments that treat migrants and refugees as disposable. We need to extend our solidarity to oppressed people regardless of nationality, especially when it’s our own government that is attacking them.
• Days before five wealthy men perished in the Titan submersible, 500 migrants died in a shipwreck off the coast of Greece.
• Survivors say the Greek Coast Guard caused the shipwreck.
• Governments attack stateless and refugee people, like Border Patrol destroying humanitarian aid in California earlier this year.